The wide-reaching leak on data surveillance programs by Edward Snowden (who has sought asylum in Russia) is still ongoing.

According to the Washington Post, an internal audit and other top-secret documents show that the National Security Agency (NSA) has broken privacy laws or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since it was granted broader powers in 2008.

In most cases, the NSA was involved in unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the U.S., despite these being restricted by law and executive order.

As a result of infractions ranging from significant violations of law to typographical errors, the NSA was also involved in unintended interception of U.S. emails and calls.

The Washington Post says the NSA audit it obtained, dated May 2012, only spanned 12 months. This means the NSA could have been involved in such violations before and after.

Even so, the audit counted 2,776 incidents involving unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications — with most being unintended. Many cases were due to failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure, while the most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.

The NSA has provided the Washington Post with a statement in response to questions. An unnamed senior NSA official, speaking with White House permission, told the newspaper: “We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line.”

The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is meant to provide critical oversight of the government’s vast spying programs, also told the Washington Post that it has to trust the government to report when it spies on Americans improperly, given that the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that are aimed at protecting Americans’ privacy.

➤ Via The Washington Post

Headline image by NSA via Getty Images